American Shores Face Threat of Rising Sea Level

Report projects 4-foot rise in global sea levels by end of century.

ByABC News
December 26, 2008, 2:00 PM

Dec. 26, 2008 -- An Iditarod without snow, Florida's coastal towns lost forever to the Gulf of Mexico, wheat farmers in Kansas without crops.

What sounds like the climatic end of days could be coming a lot sooner than previously anticipated.

A recent report released by the U.S. Geological Survey paints abrupt climactic shifts, including a more rapid climate change with global sea level increases of up to four feet by the year 2100 and arid climatic shifts in the North American Southwest by mid-century.

Previous estimates anticipated a global sea level rise of 1.5 feet by the end of the century. The current survey, commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, estimated that the compounding effects of the loss of Arctic Sea ice will more than double previous projections by the end of the century.

"The Arctic is a regulator of Earth's climate," Martin Sommerkorn, a senior adviser on climate change to the World Wildlife Federation, cautioned in a statement. "We are seeing troubling signs that the dramatic changes in that region threaten the rest of the planet."

The National Resources Defense Council describes the Arctic as "global warming's canary in the coal mine." Arctic ice melt, the NRDC warns, will have devastating effects beyond the polar region and well into the American heartland.

The rising temperatures are already being felt across Alaska's geographic landscape. On the Kenai Peninsula, scientists believe that the warmer weather has allowed spruce bark beetles to mature and reproduce more quickly. Able to complete a two-year life cycle in only a year, the insects have eaten almost 4 million acres of forest.

In Fairbanks, a city built on top of a permafrost layer, a foundation thought to be permanently frozen, is thawing, resulting in buckling highways and sinking homes.

And the Iditarod dog sled race was forced to move its traditional starting point from Wasilla, the once-home of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, farther north to a location that wasn't affected by warmer temperatures and lack of snowfall.